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COVER STORY

The Doctor, Unmasked

After a soul-searching jail stint, rap icon Dr. Dre left his Death Row Records empire and tossed off the gangsta image. Is there a place for nice guy Andre Young in this biz?

October 13, 1996|Chuck Philips | Chuck Philips is a Times staff writer

Dre says he has no knowledge of a reported FBI investigation into alleged gang-related drug-trafficking activities at Death Row, and discounts rumors in the rap community that his departure caused bad blood between him and his former associates.

"I guess Suge has his reasons for saying whatever he does," says Dre, who has not talked to Knight in months. "It's all good. It doesn't bother me. You know, Quincy Jones once told me something real wise. He said, 'Dre, be careful not to step on any toes because there is a good chance that they might be connected to a butt you have to kiss later down the road.' You know, man, there are a lot of toes being stepped on right now, but not by me."

Although Dre's exit is perceived as a creative blow to Death Row, competitors believe the label will continue to prosper because so many of its rappers and producers were tutored by Dre. New Death Row albums by Snoop, Shakur and R&B singer Nate Dogg are due out in November and are expected to top the pop charts.

"I have a great deal of respect for Snoop and a lot of the artists at Death Row--and they know it," Dre says. "Those guys have a gang of talent and I wish them all the best. They're going to do just fine. But honestly, as far as my life is concerned, Death Row doesn't even exist. I have already moved on."

The striking changes in Dre's life are largely the result of 180 days of soul-searching last year in a Pasadena city jail cell.

The rapper was locked up for violating the probation he had received after breaking another rap producer's jaw in 1992. That charge followed a conviction for hitting a New Orleans police officer in a 1992 hotel brawl and another for slamming a female TV talk-show host into a wall at a Hollywood club in 1991.

"When I got sentenced, my mom told me that jail was going to turn out to be a blessing in disguise--and she was right," says Dre, pointing to a photo of him and his mother taped to the center of his mixing console. "I had nothing to do in there but think about how much I was screwing up.

"You see, I got wrapped up in the Dr. Dre image and all that old Hollywood B.S. You know what I'm saying: the clothes, the jewelry, the fly cars with the big sound systems pulling up in front of the clubs. But incarceration brought me down to earth and actually turned Dr. Dre back into Andre Young. It made me realize the value of my life and just how many things I needed to change."

Within months after he was released from jail, Dre left Death Row. Starting from scratch talent-wise, he brought in a fresh crew of musicians and assembled a new studio team of producers including Budda, Stu-B-Doo, Chris the Glove Taylor and Flossy P. He then signed 18 new acts, including R&B crooners Whoz Who, RC and Hands On.

Aftermath operates out of a 3,000-square-foot office in Sherman Oaks, about a mile from his main recording studio. The man whose recordings have been repeatedly criticized for misogynistic lyrics has a staff of eight--four of them women.

"I feel like black females handle their business a lot tighter than anybody on this planet," Dre says. "They have to work twice as hard to get a good position in this business. First off, because they are women. Secondly, they are black, which makes it even harder. It's amazing what these women accomplish every day. I call them Dre's angels."

Like most record company offices, the walls of Aftermath are lined with symbols of past success, including gold and platinum albums. But Dre is already focusing on the future.

And what will his post-Death Row music be like?

Fans got their first taste of what Dre has been up to on Aftermath's initial single, "East Coast/West Coast Killas," released to radio last month. It features a bicoastal quartet of rap stars with lyrics that question the wisdom of factional fighting between hip-hop cliques in New York and Los Angeles.

The second single, "Been There, Done That," which will be released to radio this week, includes such anti-violence lyrics as:

I been there, done that

You got guns? Yo, I got straps

A million mothers on the planet Earth

Talk that hard B.S.

'Cause that's all they're worth.

The debut album, "Dr. Dre Presents the Aftermath," is a compilation that will showcase a blend of rap and R&B music featuring performances by Dre and more than a dozen new acts he recently discovered. Due Nov. 26, the collection also includes a debut single from a highly regarded Philadelphia singer-songwriter named Maurice Wilcher.

Meanwhile, Aftermath is developing a TV pilot about juvenile delinquents called "Half-Way." Dre, who has directed a number of his own videos, plans to direct the show as well as a movie about hip-hop music that he is currently writing called "Please Listen to My Demo." He'll also write the soundtracks for both projects, which he'll soon shop around Hollywood.

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